Government Medical Cannabis Bill exposes terminally ill to uncertainty and fear

01 Feb, 2018


Professor Max Abbott CNZM today called on Members of Parliament to support MP Chloe Swarbrick’s Private Member’s Bill to improve access to medical cannabis.

Professor Max Abbott CNZM today called on Members of Parliament to support MP Chloe Swarbrick’s Private Member’s Bill to improve access to medical cannabis.  He said the Bill will help ensure medical cannabis and cannabis-based products are available for people with terminal illness or in chronic pain.

“Polls show that around 80% of adults want patients to have safe legal access to affordable medical cannabis and Labour, pre-election, promised to legislate to make this happen.”

According to Professor Abbott the Government Bill falls far short of achieving its promise and what the large majority of New Zealanders want. 

“The Government Bill does not legalise medicinal cannabis.  Its main provision is to introduce a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis.”

“In other words people deemed to be terminally ill by a medical or nurse practitioner may still be charged with an offence, as will people who assist them to get access to cannabis for medicinal purposes.  However, in court terminally ill people can present evidence of a terminal illness as a defence against criminal proceedings.”

Professor Abbott said this exposes terminally ill people and those close to them to uncertainty and fear around the use of medical cannabis.  Additionally, he said, the statutory defence does not apply to the large number of people who use cannabis for chronic back or other pain, severe immune or nervous system disorders and other medical conditions.

“The Government Bill is an advance in that it will allow regulations to be introduced to set standards for the production, importation and supply of medical cannabis and related products.  It will not, however, provide safe affordable cannabis to those in need any time soon.  I fail to see how this Bill is guided by the principles of fairness and compassion as claimed.”

Professor Abbott said that in contrast to the Government Bill, Chloe Swarbrick’s Bill will legalise the medicinal use of cannabis.  He said it is very similar to medical cannabis law that has been operating in Hawaii and Canada for nearly 20 years.   

“It will make it legal for people suffering from terminal illness or any debilitating condition to use cannabis or cannabis products with the support of a medical practitioner.  Importantly it will also make it possible for a person with a qualifying health condition, or someone they nominate, to cultivate, possess and supply cannabis for their medical use.”   

Professor Abbott noted that both the Government and Private Members Bill have provision to remove Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis plants, from the list of controlled drugs.

Professor Abbott said that it is essential that MPs vote for Chloe Swarbrick’s Bill at its first reading.

“This will ensure that a number of key issues will be fully examined in select committee, debated and informed by public opinion and expert advice.   From this it is more likely that fit for purpose legislation will be developed that meets public expectations short-term and paves the way for more comprehensive and effective use of medical cannabis.”

“It is essential that we progress legislation to relieve the suffering of tens of thousands of New Zealanders and remove their fear of prosecution.  Research worldwide shows that legalising medicinal cannabis does not increase adolescent use and there is also evidence that states with legalised access have lower rates of prescription opiate use and addiction.”

Professor Abbott is Dean of the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences at Auckland University of Technology.  He is the Past President of the World Federation for Mental Health and remains its Senior Consultant.

Last updated: 01-Feb-2018 3.01pm

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